- Celtic earn first league win in three games
- Kilmarnock last beat the Hoops at home in February 2010
- Izaguirre’s third goal in four and a half years at Celtic
- Third defeat in last five league games for Killie
CHAMPIONS Celtic moved to within a point of Scottish Premiership leaders Aberdeen as goals from Emilio Izaguirre and Stefan Scepovic ensured victory at Kilmarnock.
Left-back Izaguirre volleyed home Stefan Johansen’s pass nine minutes before the break for his first league strike since October 2010.
Killie went closest when Robbie Muirhead’s poked effort was tipped over by Craig Gordon in the second half.
Scepovic, who replaced top scorer John Guidetti in the Hoops team, sealed the points with a close-range finish 18 minutes from time.
Celtic, playing their first match of 2015 after their New Year’s Day derby with Partick Thistle was postponed because of a waterlogged pitch, had dropped four points from their previous two games.
But Ronny Deila’s men returned to winning ways in dominant fashion and might have won by more with Kris Commons – on his first league start since November 22 – denied twice by the crossbar and twice by Killie keeper Craig Samson.
It was the perfect sign-off for the Hoops ahead of jetting off to Gran Canaria tomorrow morning for a winter training camp before returning to face high-flying Hamilton a week on Saturday.
Killie, meanwhile, knew a third straight league victory would have moved them into the top six for the first time in over a month.
Despite the defeat, Allan Johnston’s men are nine points better off than at this stage last term and equipped themselves well, particularly after the break.
A nonchalant effort from Muirhead, who replaced Chris Johnston in a surprising tactical substitution after 35 minutes, was kept out by Gordon.
Jamie Hamill’s low drive was diverted narrowly wide by Muirhead and Mark O’Hara curled over the crossbar from 20 yards.
But, although Killie put up firm resistance, Celtic remained firmly in control to record a seventh straight win over the East Ayrshire outfit.
Deila recalled Commons, who scored a hat-trick on the Hoops’ last visit to Rugby Park, and handed only a third appearance of the season to 18-year-old midfielder Liam Henderson.
It was 31-year-old Commons – widely expected to leave the club during the transfer window – that inspired the visitors throughout a first half they bossed.
The Scot rattled the crossbar twice with thunderous efforts from the edge of the box as the hosts were left hanging on amid the incessant Celtic pressure.
Killie took 28 minutes to conjure any opportunity of note as Josh Magennis met an inswinging free-kick from Alexei Eremenko, his glancing header forcing Gordon to save low to his right.
The visitors went ahead soon after as Honduran full-back Izaguirre latched onto Johansen’s pass before crashing an unstoppable left-footed volley past Samson for only his third goal for the club.
Recording 63% of possession in the first period, Deila’s team kept the ball better than their hosts on the artificial surface and deserved more than a one-goal lead for their efforts.
Only a superb one-handed save from former St Mirren stopper Samson prevented a fierce Commons drive from finding the back of the net.
Man of the match Commons was the source of all danger to the home rearguard – and Killie defender Mark Connolly had to take one in the face to keep another powerful shot at bay.
The gloss eventually arrived on 72 minutes as Efe Ambrose’s header from a Johansen corner was flicked home by Serbian striker Scepovic, whose only other goal this term also came in a 2-0 win over Killie at Celtic Park in October.
The Hoops gave only a second outing of the season to 20-year-old right-back Darnell Fisher late on and continued to stream forward.
Killie’s stand-in skipper Connolly was fortunate to escape punishment after appearing to handle Izaguirre’s shot in the box before Celtic substitute Callum McGregor’s deflected shot kissed the outside of the post in stoppage time.
Substitutes: Muirhead (for Johnston 35′), Pascali (for Hamill 80′)
Booked: Connolly (7), Hamill (65)
Substitutes: Fisher (for Matthews 75′), Guidetti (for Scepovic 82′), McGregor (for Henderson 85′)
Booked: Commons (18), Izaguirre (45+1)
Goals: Izaguirre (36), Scepovic (72)
Referee: Kevin Clancy (Scotland) – 9/10